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Salt Houses


From a dazzling new literary voice, a debut novel about a Palestinian family...
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Discuss Salt Houses by Hala Alyan:
Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

Created: 05/25/18

Replies: 11

Posted May. 25, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 1626

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Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

Atef's letters to Mustafa help him cope with the trauma of being a prisoner of war, and on page 103, he thinks, "He will write to Mustafa about this moment ... He will tell him about the ways the world has changed. He can see the blank paper in front of him, his fingers curving instinctively. I'm addicted to this, he wrote a while ago. My confessional." Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?


Posted Jun. 04, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
janeh

Join Date: 06/15/11

Posts: 165

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RE: Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

I feel like he's barely holding it together and if he starts letting his feelings out, even in the form if writing on the page, he runs the risk of completely falling apart. Being an observer helps him to "hold it together".
His wife seems to be the more openly emotional of the two parents.


Posted Jun. 05, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
janeto

Join Date: 06/05/18

Posts: 7

RE: Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

Of all the characters created by the author, for me, Atef is the most complex and interesting. He begins life as an idealist and an activist who cares deeply about the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people and the cause for liberation. He encourages Mustafa to join the movement and speak-out at the mosque and at political rallies. He is also the one who "shames" Mustafá into joining the fight rather than fleeing to his family in Amman....a decisión that ultimately costs Mustafa his life. Atef suffers "survivor guilt" the rest of his life and feels he has a debt to pay to his friend and to his friend's family. He keeps Mustafa's memory alive by writing to him on a daily basis and he becomes a peacemaker in the family who demands little but gives much to his wife, children and grandchildren.


Posted Jun. 05, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
louisee

Join Date: 06/29/15

Posts: 93

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RE: Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

I agree Atef has "survivor's guilt." He is an observer because he doesn't want to hurt anyone. He wants his family to be happy. He is patient, a good listener, and caregiver. Alia is the opposite - excitable, opinionated and becomes the patient needing care.


Posted Jun. 05, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
reene

Join Date: 02/18/15

Posts: 312

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RE: Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

Atif began as an activist, full of passion and eager to do whatever was necessary to save his country and people from any and all injustice. After prison, he suffers from guilt for having convinced Mustafa to join him in the fight. He continues to care deeply about his family, but the fight is gone out of him. He lets his wife do the fighting and arguing, only stepping in when necessary. He then becomes the calming voice.
He is an observer of life and continues to share his feelings with Mustafa through his letters.


Posted Jun. 07, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 259

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RE: Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

I agree with what everyone has said above. I will add that Atef at least is attempting to process his grief to move forward; he is more patient and understanding in his family life than Alia, who is volatile and easily frustrated and critical. This could be because Atef feels his own sense of responsibility, his guilt, and that makes him more tolerant of others. Alia has nothing to feel guilty about, it's all just suppressed anger and grief, expressed by withdrawing or by being demanding, attempting to control in small ways. And she realizes this, in seeing her nostalgia as an affliction. Sadly, they both feel this has left an empty hole in their own loving relationship.


Posted Jun. 10, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
scgirl

Join Date: 06/05/18

Posts: 59

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RE: Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

I think Atef has been a participant in life and that did not work out well for him. His actions during the Six-Day war and subsequent to it were not ones of which he could be/was proud. At that point he recedes into an observer. Certainly his "survivor's" guilt and guilt of betraying his best friend all have contributed to his being an observer of life.

Participants get hurt and hurt others.

Souad is passionate about life - it shows through her actions and emotions, which can both be very volatile. Between them I think there is understanding and acceptance albeit with frustration for not completely being in synch with the other.


Posted Jun. 10, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
sherilyn15

Join Date: 02/24/14

Posts: 4

RE: Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

I believe like many of the others that Atef is an activist who has become an observer due to survivor guilt. His letters to Mustafa are his way of reconnecting his world, his friend and his actions. If Alia were male she would have been the activist.


Posted Jun. 10, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
judyw

Join Date: 06/13/11

Posts: 44

RE: Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

Males are often more reticent concerning emotions and feelings. Atef does suffer from an ongoing guilt over the death of his dearest friend. He chooses to be quiet and not participate in more than necessary to support his family throughout the situations they encounter. As is often the case, Alia is more outgoing, gregarious and willing to express her feelings about everything.


Posted Jun. 13, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
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taking.mytime

Join Date: 03/29/16

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RE: Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

I think that Atef was narcissistic. I did not like him at all. Was he sorry about Mustafas' death, probably, but it appeared to me that everything he did was for the betterment of himself, even to the harm of others. Atef participated in life when it benefited him, then withdrew into himself when he feared that his actions of harm would be known to others.


Posted Jun. 13, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
dianaps

Join Date: 05/29/15

Posts: 277

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RE: Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

I think Atef retreated after Mustafas' death because he was afraid for his family. He just seemed to lead such a small life as compared to the other characters.


Posted Jun. 16, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
acstrine

Join Date: 02/06/17

Posts: 59

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RE: Do you think Atef prefers to be an observer of life rather than a participant? How does his approach to life differ from that of his wife?

The last time Atef was a "participant", he goaded his best friend and the brother of his wife into staying to participate in the Six Day War. He then "gave up" his brother-in-law, who died as a result. In addition to feeling guilty, perhaps, Atef does not quite trust himself. He never wants to find himself in the position where his words cause harm to another again. He allows others to speak out, choosing to be more internal. He speaks out in his letters to Mustafa. I think this is one reason he feels such relief when he discovers the grandchildren found his letters. They know more about him and his opinions as a result.


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